Chapter 2

I went back to the kitchen, looking forward to my coffee and a slice of the applesauce bread Halleigh Bellefleur had dropped off at the bar the day before. She was a nice young woman, and I was real glad she and Andy were expecting a baby. I'd heard that Andy's grandmother, ancient Mrs. Caroline Bellefleur, was beside herself with delight, and I didn't doubt it for a moment. I tried to think about good things, like Halleigh's baby, Tara's pregnancy, and the last night I'd spent with Eric; but the disturbing news Basim had told me gnawed at me all morning.

Of all the ideas I had, calling the Renard Parish's sheriff's office was the one that got almost zero brain time. There was no way I could tell them why I was worried. The Weres were out, and there was nothing illegal about letting them hunt on my land. But I couldn't picture myself telling Sheriff Dearborn that a Were had told me fairies had been crossing my property.

Here's the thing. As far as I'd known until this moment, all the fairies except my cousin Claude had been barred from the human world. At least, all the fairies in America. I'd never wondered about those in other countries, and now I closed my eyes and winced at my own stupidity. My great-grandfather Niall had closed all the portals between the fae world and ours. At least, that was what he'd told me he was going to do. And I'd assumed they were all gone, except for Claude, who'd lived among humans as long as I'd known him. So how come there'd been a fairy tromping through my woods?

And who could I ask for advice on the situation? I couldn't just sit on my hands and do nothing. My great-grandfather had been looking for the self-loathing half-human renegade Dermot until the moment he closed the portal. I needed to face the possibility that Dermot, who was simply insane, had been left in the human world. However it had come about, I had to believe that fae proximity to my house couldn't be a good thing. I needed to talk to someone about this.

I might confide in Eric, since he was my lover, or in Sam, because he was my friend, or even in Bill, because his land shared a boundary with mine and he would also be concerned. Or I could talk to Claude, see if he'd give me any insight into the situation. I sat at the table with my coffee and my hunk of applesauce bread, too distracted to read or turn on the radio to catch the news. I finished one cup of coffee and started another. I showered, in an automatic sort of way, and made my bed and did all my usual morning tasks.

Finally, I sat down at the computer I'd brought home from my cousin Hadley's New Orleans apartment, and I checked my e-mail. I'm not methodical about doing this. I know very few people who might send me e-mail, and I simply haven't gotten into the habit of looking at my computer every day.

I had several messages. I didn't recognize the return address on the first one. I moved the mouse to click on it.

A knock at the back door made me jump like a frog.

I pushed back my chair. After a second's hesitation, I got the shotgun from the closet in the front room. Then I went to the back door and peeked through the new peephole. "Speak of the devil," I muttered.

This day was just full of surprises, and it wasn't even ten o'clock.

I put down the shotgun and opened the door. "Claude," I said. "Come in. You want a drink? I've got Coke and coffee and orange juice."

I noticed that Claude had the strap of a big tote bag slung over his shoulder. From its solid appearance, the bag was jammed with clothes. I didn't remember inviting him to a slumber party.

He came in, looking serious and somehow unhappy. Claude had been in the house before, but not often, and he looked around at my kitchen. The kitchen happened to be new because the old kitchen had burned down, so I had shiny appliances and everything still looked squared away and level.

"Sookie, I can't stay in our house by myself any longer. Can I bunk with you for a while, Cousin?"

I tried to pick my jaw up off the floor before he noticed how shocked I was - first, that Claude had confessed he needed help; second, that he confessed it to me; and third, that Claude would stay in the same house with me when he normally thought of me as about on the same level as a beetle. I'm a human and I'm a woman, so I've got two strikes against me as far as Claude's concerned. Plus, of course, there was the whole issue of Claudine dying in my defense.

"Claude," I said, trying to sound only sympathetic, "have a seat. What's wrong?" I glanced at the shotgun, unaccountably glad it was within reach.

Claude gave it only a casual glance. After a moment, he put down his bag and simply stood there, as if he couldn't figure out what to do next.

It seemed surreal to be in my kitchen alone with my fairy cousin. Though he had apparently made the choice to continue living among humans, he was far from warm and fuzzy about them. Claude, albeit physically beautiful, was an indiscriminate jerk, as far as I'd observed. But he'd gotten his ears surgically altered to look human, so he wouldn't have to expend his energy perpetuating a human appearance. And as far as I knew, Claude's sexual connections had always been with human males.

"You're still living in the house you shared with your sisters?" It was a prosaic three-bedroom ranch in Monroe.


Okay. I was looking for a little expansion on the theme here. "The bars aren't keeping you occupied?" Between owning and operating two strip clubs - Hooligans and a new place he'd just taken over - and performing at Hooligans at least once a week, I'd imagined Claude to be both busy and well-to-do. Since he was handsome to the nth degree, he made a lot of money in tips, and the occasional modeling job boosted his income. Claude could make even the most staid grandmother drool. Being in the same room with someone so gorgeous gave women a contact high ... until he opened his mouth. Plus, he no longer had to share the club income with his sister.

"I'm busy. And I don't lack for money. But without the company of my own kind ... I feel I'm starving."

"Are you serious?" I said without thinking, and then I could have kicked myself. But Claude needing me (or anyone, for that matter) seemed so unlikely. His request to stay with me was wholly unexpected and unwelcome.

But my gran chided me mentally. I was looking at a member of my family, one of the few still living and/or accessible to me. My relationship with my great-grandfather Niall had ended when he'd retreated into Faery and pulled the door shut behind him. Though Jason and I had mended our fences, my brother very much led his own life. My mom, my dad, and my grandmother were dead, my aunt Linda and my cousin Hadley were dead, and I rarely saw Hadley's little son.

I had depressed the hell out of myself in the space of a minute.

"Do I have enough fairy in me to be any help to you?" That was all I could think of to say.

"Yes," he said very simply. "I already feel better." This seemed a weird echo of my conversation with Bill. Claude halfway smiled. If Claude looked incredible when he was unhappy, he looked divine when he smiled. "Since you've been in the company of fairies, it's accentuated your streak of fairy essence. By the way, I have a letter for you."

"Who from?"


"How's that possible? I understood the fae world was shut off now."

"He has his ways," Claude said evasively. "He's the only prince now, and very powerful."

He has his ways. "Humph," I said. "Okay, let's see it."

Claude pulled an envelope out of his overnight bag. It was buff-colored and sealed with a blue blob of wax. In the wax was imprinted a bird, its wings spread in flight.

"So there's a fairy mailbox," I said. "And you can send and receive letters?"

"This letter, anyway."

Fae were very good at evasion. I huffed out a breath of exasperation.

I got a knife and slid it under the seal. The paper I extracted from the envelope had a very curious texture.

"Dearest great-granddaughter," it began. "There are things I didn't get to say to you and many things I didn't get to do for you before my plans collapsed in the war."


"This letter is written on the skin of one of the water sprites who drowned your parents."

"Ick!" I cried, and dropped the letter on the kitchen table.

Claude was by my side in a flash. "What's wrong?" he asked, looking around the kitchen as if he expected to see a troll pop up.

"This is skin! Skin!"

"What else would Niall write on?" He looked genuinely taken aback.

"Ewww!" Even to myself, I sounded a little too girly-girly. But honestly ... skin?

"It's clean," Claude said, clearly hoping that would solve my problem. "It's been processed."

I gritted my teeth and reached down for my great-grandfather's letter. I took a deep, steadying breath. Actually, the ... material hardly smelled at all. Smothering a desire to put on oven mitts, I made myself focus on reading.

"Before I left your world, I made sure one of my human agents talked to several people who can help you evade the scrutiny of the human government. When I sold the pharmaceutical company we owned, I used much of my profit to ensure your freedom."

I blinked, because my eyes were tearing up a little. He might not be a typical great-grandfather, but by golly, he'd done something wonderful for me.

"He's bribed some government officials to call off the FBI? Is that what he's done?"

"I have no idea," Claude said, shrugging. "He wrote me, too, to let me know that I had an extra three hundred thousand dollars in my bank account. Also, Claudine hadn't made a will, since she didn't ..."

Expect to die. She had expected to raise a child with a fairy lover I'd never met. Claude shook himself and said in a cracked voice, "Niall produced a human body and a will, so I don't have to wait years to prove her death. She left me almost everything. She said this to our father, Dillon, when she appeared to him as part of her death ritual."

Fairies told their relatives they had passed, after they'd translated to spirit form. I wondered why Claudine had appeared to Dillon instead of to her brother, and I asked Claude, phrasing it as tactfully as I could.

"The next oldest receives the vision," Claude said stiffly. "Our sister, Claudette, appeared to me, since I was older than her by a minute. Claudine made her death ritual to our father, since she was older than I."

"So she told your dad she wanted you to have her share of the clubs?" It was pretty lucky for Claude that Claudine had let someone else know about her wishes. I wondered what happened if the oldest fae in the line was the one who was doing the dying. I'd save that question for later.

"Yes. Her share of the house. Her car. Though I already had one." For some reason, Claude was looking self-conscious. And guilty. Why on earth would he look guilty?

"How do you ride in it?" I asked, sidetracked. "Since fairies have such issues with iron?"

"I wear the invisible gloves over exposed skin," he said. "I put them on after every shower. And I've built up a little more tolerance with every decade of living in the human world."

I returned to the letter. "There may be more I can do for you. I will let you know. Claudine left you a gift."

"Oh, Claudine left me something, too? What?" I looked up at Claude, who didn't look exactly pleased. I think he hadn't known the contents of the letter for certain. If Niall hadn't revealed Claudine's legacy, Claude might not have. Fairies don't lie, but they don't always tell all the truth, either.

"She left you the money in her bank account," he said, resigned. "It contains her wages from the department store and her share of the income from the clubs."

"Aw ... that was so nice of her." I blinked a couple of times. I tried not to touch my savings account, and my checking account wasn't too healthy because I'd missed a lot of work recently. Plus, my tips had suffered because I'd been so down. Smiling waitresses make more than sad waitresses.

I could sure use a few hundred dollars. Maybe I could buy some new clothes, and I really needed a new toilet in the hall bathroom. "How do you do a transfer like that?"

"You'll get a check from Mr. Cataliades. He is handling the estate."

Mr. Cataliades - if he had a first name, I'd never heard it - was a lawyer, and he was also (mostly) a demon. He handled the human legal affairs of many supernaturals in Louisiana. I felt subtly better when Claude said his name, because I knew Mr. Cataliades had no bone to pick with me.

Well, I had to make up my mind about Claude's housemate proposal.

"Let me make a phone call," I said, and pointed to the coffeepot. "If you need some more, I can make some. Are you hungry?"

Claude shook his head.

"Then after I call Amelia, you and I need to have a little chitchat." I went to the phone in my bedroom. Amelia was an earlier riser than me, because my job kept me up late. She answered her cell phone on the second ring. "Sookie," she said, and she didn't sound as gloomy as I'd anticipated. "What's up?"

I couldn't think of any casual way to lead into my question. "My cousin would like to stay here for a while," I said. "He could use the bedroom across from mine, but if he stays upstairs, we'd each have a little more privacy. If you're coming back anytime soon, of course he'll go on and put his stuff in the downstairs bedroom. I just didn't want you to come back to find someone sleeping in your bed."

There was a long silence. I braced myself.

"Sookie," she said, "I love you. You know that. And I loved living with you. It was a godsend to have somewhere to go after that thing with Bob. But right now I'm stuck in New Orleans for a while. I'm just ... in the middle of a lot of stuff."

I'd expected this, but it was still a tough moment. I hadn't really expected her to come back. I'd hoped she'd heal faster in New Orleans - and it was true she hadn't mentioned Tray. It sounded like more than grieving was going on. "You're okay?"

"I am," she said. "And I've been training with Octavia some more." Octavia, her mentor in witchcraft, had returned to New Orleans with her long-lost love. "Also, I finally got ... judged. I've got to pay a penalty for - you know - the thing with Bob."

"The thing with Bob" was Amelia's way of referring to accidentally turning her lover into a cat. Octavia had returned Bob to his human form, but naturally Bob hadn't been happy with Amelia, and neither had Octavia. Though Amelia had been training in her craft, clearly transformational magic had been beyond her skills.

"So, they're not going to whip you or anything, right?" I asked, trying to sound as if I were joking. "After all, it's not like he died." Just lost a big chunk of his life and missed Katrina entirely, including being able to inform his family that he'd survived.

"Some of them would whip me if they could. But that's not how we witches roll." Amelia tried to laugh, but it wasn't convincing. "As a penalty, I've got to do, like, community service."

"Like picking up litter or tutoring kids?"

"Well ... mixing potions and making up bags of common ingredients so they're ready to hand. Working extra hours in the magic store, and killing chickens for rituals every now and then. Doing a lot of legwork. Without pay."

"That sucks," I said, because money is almost always a touchy subject with me. Amelia had grown up rich, but I had not. If someone deprives me of income, I get pissed off. I had a fleeting moment of wondering how much Claudine's bank account might have had in it, and I blessed her for thinking of me.

"Yeah, well, Katrina wiped the New Orleans covens out. We lost some members who'll never come back, so we don't get their contributions anymore, and I never use my dad's money for the coven."

"So, the bottom line?" I said.

"I've gotta stay down here. I don't know if I'll ever make it back to Bon Temps. And I'm really sorry about that, because I really liked living with you."

"Same here." I took a deep breath, determined not to sound forlorn. "What about your stuff? Not that there's that much here, but still."

"I'll leave it there for now. I've got everything here I need, and the rest is yours to use as you see fit till I can make arrangements to get it."

We talked a bit more, but we'd said everything important. I forgot to ask her if Octavia had found a way to dissolve Eric's blood bond with me. Possibly I wasn't very interested in an answer. I hung up, feeling both sad and glad: glad that Amelia was working off her debt to her coven and that she was happier than she'd been in Bon Temps after Tray's death, and sad because I understood she didn't expect to return. After a moment of silent farewell to her, I went to the kitchen to tell Claude that the upstairs was all his.

After I'd absorbed his gratified smile, I moved on to another issue. I didn't know how to approach my question, so finally I simply asked him. "Have you been out in my woods back of the house?"

His face went absolutely blank.

"Why would I do that?" he said.

"I didn't ask for your motivation. I asked if you had been there." I know evasion when I hear it.

"No," he said.

"That's bad news."


"Because the Weres tell me a fairy's been back there very recently." I kept my eyes fixed on his. "And if it's not you, who could it be?"

"There aren't many fairies left," Claude said.

Again, evasion. "If there are other fairies that didn't make it in before the portal was shut, you could hang around with them," I said. "You wouldn't need to stay with me, with my little dash of fairy blood. Yet here you are. And somewhere in my woods is yet another fairy." I eyed his expression. "I don't see you excited about tracking down whoever it is. What's the deal? Why don't you dash out there, find the fairy, do some bonding, and be happy?"

Claude looked down. "The last portal to close was in your woods," he said. "Possibly it's not completely shut. And I know Dermot, your great-uncle, was on the outside. If Dermot is the fairy the Weres sensed, he wouldn't be glad to see me."

I thought he would have more to say, but he stopped right there.

That was plenty of bad news, and another whopping dollop of dodging the issue. I was still dubious about his goals, but Claude was family, and I had precious little family left. "All right," I said, opening a kitchen drawer where I stowed odds and ends. "Here's a key. We'll see how this pans out. I have to go to work this afternoon, by the way. And we have to have a talk. You know that I've got a boyfriend, right?" I was already feeling kind of embarrassed.

"Who are you seeing?" Claude asked, with a sort of professional interest.

"Ah, well ... Eric Northman."

Claude whistled. He looked both admiring and cautious. "Does Eric spend the night? I need to know if he's going to jump me." Claude looked as though that wouldn't be totally unwelcome. But the pertinent issue was that fairies are really intoxicating to vampires, like catnip to cats. Eric would have a hard time restraining himself from biting if Claude was close to him.

"That would probably end badly for you," I said. "But I think, with a little care, we can get around it." Eric seldom spent the night at my house because he liked to be back in Shreveport before dawn. He had so much work to get through every night that he'd found it was better for him to wake up in Shreveport. I do have a hidden place where a vampire can stay in relative safety, but it's not exactly deluxe, not like Eric's house.

I was a little more concerned about the possibility of Claude bringing strange men back to my house. I didn't want to encounter someone I didn't know when I was on my way to the kitchen in my nightie. Amelia had had a couple of overnight guests, but they'd been people I knew. I took a deep breath, hoping what I was about to say wouldn't come out homophobic. "Claude, it's not that I don't want you to have a good time," I said, wishing this conversation were over and done with. I admired Claude's unblushing acceptance of the fact that I had a sex life, and I only wished I could match that nonchalance.

"If I want to have sex with someone you don't know, I'll take him to my house in Monroe," Claude said, with a wicked little smile. He could be perceptive when he chose, I noted. "Or I'll let you know ahead of time. That okay?"

"Sure," I said, surprised at Claude's easy compliance. But he'd said all the right words. I relaxed some as I showed Claude where strategic kitchen stuff was, gave him some tips on the washer and the dryer, and told him the hall bathroom was all his. Then I led him upstairs. Amelia had worked hard on making one of the little bedrooms pretty, and she'd decorated the other one as a sitting room. She'd taken her laptop with her, but the TV was still there. I checked to make sure that the bed was made up with clean linens and the closet was mostly clear of Amelia's clothing. I pointed out the door to the walk-in attic, in case he needed to store anything. Claude pulled it open and took a step inside. He looked around at the shadowy, crowded space. Generations of Stackhouses had stored things they thought they might need someday, and I admit it was a little on the cluttered and chaotic side.

"You need to go through this," he said. "Do you even know what's up here?"

"Family debris," I said, looking in with some dismay. I'd just never worked up the heart to tackle it since Gran died.

"I'll help you," Claude declared. "That will be my payment to you for my room."

I opened my mouth to point out that Amelia had given me cash, but then I reflected, again, that he was family. "That would be great," I said. "Though I don't know if I'm up to it yet." My wrists had been aching this morning, though they were definitely better than they'd been. "And there are some other jobs around the house that are beyond me, if you wouldn't mind giving a hand."

He bowed. "I would be delighted," he said.

This was a different side of Claude from the one I'd come to know and disparage.

Grief and loneliness seemed to have woken something in the beautiful fairy; he appeared to have come to the realization that he had to show a little kindness to other people if he wanted to receive kindness in return. Claude seemed to understand that he needed others, especially now that his sisters were gone.

I was a little more at ease with our arrangement by the time I left for work. I'd listened to Claude moving around upstairs for a while, and then he'd come down with an armful of hair-care products to arrange in the bathroom. I'd already put out clean towels for him. He seemed satisfied with the bathroom, which was very old-fashioned. But then Claude had been alive in a time before indoor plumbing, so maybe he saw it from a different perspective. Truthfully, hearing someone else in the house had relaxed something deep inside me, a tension I hadn't even known I felt.

"Hey, Sam," I said. He was behind the bar when I came out of the back room, where I'd left my purse and put on an apron. Merlotte's wasn't very busy. Holly, as always, was talking to her Hoyt, who was dawdling over his supper. With her Merlotte's T-shirt, Holly was wearing pink and green plaid shorts instead of the regulation black.

"Looking good, Holly," I called, and she gave me a radiant smile. While Hoyt beamed, Holly held out her hand to show off a brand-new ring.

I let out a shriek and hugged her. "Oh, this is so great!" I said. "Holly, it's so pretty! So, have you picked a date yet?"

"It'll be in the fall, probably," Holly said. "Hoyt has to work long hours through the spring and summer. That's his busy time, so we figured maybe October or November."

"Sookie," Hoyt said, his voice dropping and his face growing solemn. "Now that Jason and I have mended our fences, I'm going to ask him to be my best man."

I glanced very quickly over to Holly, who'd never been a big Jason fan. She was still smiling, and if I could detect the reservations she had, Hoyt couldn't.

I said, "He'll be thrilled."

I had to hustle off to make the rounds of my tables, but I smiled while I worked. I wondered if they'd have the ceremony after dark. Then Eric could go with me. That would be great! That would transform me from "poor Sookie who hasn't even ever been engaged" to "Sookie who brought the gorgeous guy to the wedding." Then I thought of a contingency plan. If the wedding was a daytime wedding, I could get Claude to go with me! He looked exactly like a romance cover model. He'd been a romance cover model. (Ever read The Lady and the Stableboy, or Lord Darlington's Naughty Marriage? Woo-hoo!)

I was unhappily aware that I was thinking about the wedding strictly in terms of my own feelings ... but there's nothing more forlorn than being an old maid at a wedding. I realize that it's silly to feel like you're on the shelf at twenty-seven. But I had missed some prime time, and I was increasingly conscious of that fact. So many of my high school friends had gotten married (some more than once), and some of them were pregnant - like Tara, who was coming through the door in an oversized T-shirt.

I gave a wave to let her know I'd come talk to her when I could, and I got an iced tea for Dr. Linda Tonnesen and a Michelob for Jesse Wayne Cummins.

"What's up, Tara?" I bent over to give her a neck hug. She had plunked herself down at a table.

"I need some caffeine-free Diet Coke," she said. "And I need a cheeseburger. With lots of French-fried pickles." She looked ferocious.

"Sure," I said. "I'll get the Coke and put in your order right now."

When I returned, she drank the whole glass. "I'll be sorry in five minutes because I'll have to go to the bathroom," she said. "All I do is pee and eat." Tara had big rings under her eyes, and her complexion was not at its best. Where was the glow of pregnancy that I'd heard so much about?

"How much longer do you have to go?"

"Three months, a week, and three days."

"Dr. Dinwiddie gave you a due date!"

"JB just can't believe how big I'm getting," Tara said, with an eye roll.

"He said that? In those words?"

"Yep. Yes. He did."

"Geez Louise. That boy needs a lesson or two in rephrasing."

"I'd settle for him keeping his mouth shut entirely."

Tara had married JB knowing brains weren't his strong suit, and she was reaping the result, but I so wanted them to be happy. I couldn't be all, "You made your bed, now you gotta lie in it."

"He loves you," I said, trying to sound soothing. "He's just ..."

"JB," she said. She shrugged and summoned up a smile.

Then Antoine called that my order was up, and the avid expression on Tara's face told me that she was more focused on the food than on her husband's tactlessness. She returned to Tara's Togs a happier and fuller woman.

As soon as it was dark, I called Eric on my cell while I was in the ladies' room. I hated to sneak off on Sam's time to call my boyfriend, but I needed the support. Now that I had his cell number, I didn't have to call Fangtasia, which was both bad and good. I'd never known who was going to answer the phone, and I'm not a universal favorite among Eric's vampires. On the other hand, I missed talking to Pam, Eric's second-in-command. Pam and I are actually almost friends.

"I am here, my lover," Eric said. It was hard not to shiver when I heard his voice, but the atmosphere of the ladies' room in Merlotte's was not at all conducive to lust.

"Well, I'm here, too, obviously. Listen, I really need to talk to you," I said. "Some things have come up."

"You're worried."

"Yes. With good reason."

"I have a meeting in thirty minutes with Victor," Eric said. "You know how tense that's likely to be."

"I do know. And I'm sorry to pester you with my problems. But you're my boyfriend, and part of being a good boyfriend is listening."

"Your boyfriend," he said. "That sounds ... strange. I am so not a boy."

"Foof, Eric!" I was exasperated. "I don't want to stand here in the bathroom trying to talk terminology! What's the bottom line? Are you going to have free time later or not?"

He laughed. "Yes, for you. Can you drive over here? Wait, I'll send Pam for you. She'll be at your house at one o'clock, all right?"

I might have to hurry to get home by then, but it was doable. "Okay. And warn Pam that ... Well, tell her not to get carried away by anything, hear?"

"Oh, certainly, I'll be glad to pass that very specific message along," Eric said. He hung up. Not big on saying good-bye, like most vampires.

This was going to be a very long day.

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